State House Roundup: Recriminations And Incarcerations

Stocks rise and stocks fall, perhaps nowhere as sharply or abruptly as in that esoteric body known as the Massachusetts House of Representatives where one wrong — or right move — can spell the difference between speaker-in-waiting and backbencher status.

The reasons, however, may not always be clear.

The peculiarities of personal loyalties, policy positions and plain power positioning were on display this week in the House where Speaker Robert DeLeo, still gearing up for his second two-year term as leader of the 129-member Democratic caucus, unveiled a major shake-up of his top leadership team.

Unlike in the Senate, where new lawmakers taking the reins of the budget and moving into Senate President Therese Murray’s inner circle were necessitated by departures, the House moves were DeLeo’s prerogative.

Out is Majority Leader James Vallee, of Franklin, who was asked to apply his “talents” elsewhere when DeLeo reassigned him to co-chair the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee. His replacement, Quincy Democrat Ronald Mariano, assumes the position of DeLeo’s No. 2 — if he didn’t occupy that role already.

And then there’s the question of what happened to Ways and Means Chairman Charles Murphy, of Burlington, who on paper received a promotion to assistant majority leader, but in building parlance got put in his place by DeLeo — and lost $10,000 in his leadership stipend as a result.

Murphy told the media after the decision what was obvious: he serves at the pleasure of the Speaker. But multiple lawmakers reported to the Roundup that the former Marine was not at all pleased with the change, hoping to keep his position as the House’s lead budget negotiator after holding that chairmanship for just one two-year cycle.

The countless ways to read the shake-up at the top forced parlor intrigue into hyper-drive, including speculation that DeLeo might be punishing Vallee and Murphy for jockeying to succeed him when he has no plans to depart. Or perhaps he was rewarding those members whom he relied on during the gambling battles of the last session.

“It’s all about gaming,” mused one former House member, analyzing the reshuffling on background. It was Vallee, of course, who had reportedly urged DeLeo to cut his losses and take the offer on the table from Gov. Deval Patrick last session that would have cleared the path for the licensing of three resort casinos. Instead, DeLeo relied on the advice of Mariano and new Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey, who crafted the House gaming bill, to dig in hours before DeLeo’s last stand on the Grand Staircase that spelled the beginning of the end of the gambling bill.

“Considering what our major objectives are in terms of job creation, GIC planning, parole and probation changes, we decided to make some changes reshuffling some people in various position and I feel at the end of the day we have a great, team a strong team and I look forward to the session ahead,” DeLeo said, failing to outline any shortcomings in his old team that would have rendered it unfit for the job.

Keeping his position in the turmoil was Judiciary Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty, who could just become the busiest man on Beacon Hill next to Dempsey and Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer.

Last week at a press conference announcing human trafficking legislation, O’Flaherty pledged to put his own personal capital behind the bill even though it failed to emerge from his own committee last session. The reason, he said, was that CORI reform deliberations stole all the wind from other major initiatives.

If that’s true, O’Flaherty might need a hurricane this session with parole reform, probation reform, prison closures and drug crime sentencing all teed up and likely headed for his desk.

Gov. Deval Patrick added to that laundry list this week when he filed his fiscal 2012 budget proposal that tipped the scales at $30.5 billion, the most expensive budget document in state history. The budget’s release elicited cries from advocates who saw their shares get cut, but if it could be summed up quickly it might go something like this: widespread cuts, less federal aid, no broad-based tax increases and some very optimistic assumptions about controlling Medicaid costs, which to date has been the Holy Grail of budget writers.

Perhaps more notable than the bullet points offered up by the administration were the details of the budget — and those in companion bills he filed this week — that received little mention from the governor at all.

The Patrick administration is eyeing the possible closure of two state prisons, and filed sentencing reforms for non-violent drug offenders that would parole hundreds of inmates to ease overcrowding. Not mentioned in the press release was Patrick’s plan to shrink school zones — which carry stiffer drug crime penalties — from 1,000 feet to 100 feet, and drew questions from Attorney General Martha Coakley and others in law enforcement.

There were also increased fees on auto insurance policies, an expanded bottle bill and a lifting of the tax exemption on telecommunication equipment to muddle the governor’s no-new-taxes pledge.

The budget was enough to distract from the announcement that Auditor Suzanne Bump, who worked for Patrick for more than two years, would examine the tax break offered by the administration to China-bound Evergreen Solar, as part of a larger exploration of tax breaks. The delicate topic was a classic case of campaign politics meeting governing realities as Bump toed the line between keeping her campaign pledge to review tax incentive policy, and appearing critical of the governor after Evergreen Solar unexpectedly blew up in his face.

The week also brought a first real glimpse into what Patrick’s nominees to the bench will face before a new Governor’s Council stocked now with two Republicans and fewer reliable “yes” votes than this governor has been accustomed.

First up was newest Supreme Judicial Court Justice Fernande Duffly who won confirmation Tuesday on a 4-3 vote, the closest vote for a nominee to the highest court in recent memory. Duffly’s confirmation came down to a deciding vote cast by Oxford Republican Jennie Cassie in her first action as a councilor after she held off making a decision publicly until the votes were cast.

A day later, the council sat to consider the nomination of Heather Marie Stone Bradley, the governor’s choice for a judgeship in Plymouth County District Court. Bradley was subjected to a barrage of harsh criticism, mostly related to the political donations made by her husband, Democratic Rep. Garrett Bradley.

While Rep. Bradley bit his tongue and sat through it all, four of the councilors had no qualms about giving nominee Bradley a tongue lashing for being complicit in her husband’s showering of Democrats with political contributions, suggesting both implicitly and directly that money was the only reason she was up for the bench.

After a nearly five-hour confirmation hearing for Bradley, a patient Edward Leibensperger got his chance to sit before a weary council unaccustomed to eight-hour days in the chamber. Not tired was Republican Charles Cipollini who asked Leibensperger to regale the council with his legal opinion on the Boston Massacre, held forth on political patronage, and meandered his way through a speech about judicial political contributions that he gives to each candidate, regardless of its relevance.

While some councilors rolled their eyes and watched the clock, it was Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning, who has often used hearings to grill nominees, who finally snapped: “I ask questions. I don’t pontificate like this. Please Charlie. Can we get to it?” Manning blurted out in frustration.

The governor and Manning are not always playing for the same team, but in this case the governor might be proud. After all, the time for action is now.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Some will rise, and some will fall.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: No one will ever confuse North Andover Rep. David Torrisi with a disco diva. But there he was quoting one Friday afternoon after becoming dismissed as co-chairman of the Committee on Higher Education for what he attributed to failing to toe the party line, particularly in his vote against a sales-tax hike: “If I can quote 70s disco queen Gloria Gaynor, I will survive.”

This program aired on January 28, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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